Sex And The City Set On A Hill

When I hear the word “fornication,” I am immediately reminded of how big an issue premarital sex was during my early Christian years. Back then, nearly every unmarried woman I knew was a devotee of prosperity gospel giant Juanita Bynum. She had skyrocketed to popularity on the African American Christian conference circuit when her book No More Sheets: The Truth About Sex  (a follow-up to her viral video sermon of the same name) hit the shelves.

No More Sheets  was a call to sexual purity with an interesting theological twist. According to Bynum, each premarital sexual encounter is actually an unwitting consummation of marriage. Because marriage is supposed to be a powerful bond between two people, those who participate in sex outside marriage create an unholy “soul tie”.  With every soul tie, according to Bynum, we are bonded to some part of a former partner’s spirit– and are “married” spiritually to them (and all of our other former partners) until we break free through repentance and purity.

Armed with scripture and some very powerful rhetoric, Bynum taught that premarital sex (including masturbation) was a “tool” of Satan. Unwed coitus was Satan’s effort to thwart God’s plan for the single Christian. Those who engaged in sexual sin were being led into darkness.

I remember the overwhelming power her books and sermons had on me. I also remember the pressure within my social circles to maintain a standard of premarital celibacy… of chastity… of limited contact with any man who might tempt me to “fall from grace”.

According to Bynum’s teaching, the stakes were high.  Under extreme circumstances, sexual intercourse could irreparably compromise our contact with the Holy Spirit.  In that context, sex was a thing to be feared and avoided at all cost.  Outside the context of marriage, it was dirty and sinful.  It angered God.

I supported this perspective until my church’s young piano player became pregnant outside of wedlock in 2006. Still in her early twenties, she had fallen in love with a young man from another church and was in the throes of her first serious relationship. Several months into their romance, she announced that there was a life growing inside her… a baby… a reason to be truly joyful. The pastor of the church was incensed. He called her into a meeting with the church’s leaders. (I was a “leader” in my church at the time, and was therefore in attendance.)

She was told to “step down” from her role as our pianist until after the baby was born. I stood in her defense and asked the pastor, “If God forgives her sin, why are you punishing her?” The pastor of the church responded: “People who can’t control their lust have no role in leadership.”

Lust?   Wow. What a strong word.

I wondered to myself:  Why is sex understood as an act of lust when we’re single and elevated to love when we’re married? How can it be solely about dirty, uncontrollable lust on the day before the wedding and about blessed love at the honeymoon? It just didn’t make sense to me.

I retorted, “If this is about sin, then I’m stepping down, too. I sin every day. I ate too much at breakfast this morning. I’m a glutton, so I’m stepping down– and you all should, too. We’re all sinners.”  I waited for someone… anyone… to stand with me.  Nobody budged.

I stepped down along with the piano player that night and never returned to “leadership” at any church. I still get emotional when I think about it.

In the years that followed, I realized that our issue at the leadership meeting had nothing to do with the piano player’s “sin”.  After all, that was the only meeting of its kind that I had ever attended.  No person had ever been hauled into a leadership trial for being unkind or for failing to help the poor.  No person had ever been asked to step down for eating too much at a church function or for being caught in a lie. It wasn’t about sin (or “missing the mark” as it were)…  It was about the timeless feelings of shame that have always surrounded issues of sexuality in Christendom.

DIRTY SEXY THEOLOGY
Most of us have heard the famous “fornication” verses, but don’t know the historical context of the words we quote to condemn one another. For instance, we’ve built an open-and-shut case around the word “fornication“, but are largely unaware that “fornication” is a hybrid of the Greek words fornix (arched building) and pornea (temple prostitution). When sailors arrived at the first-century port of Corinth, there were often pagan prostitutes waiting at the shore to engage them in sexual intercourse. The prostitutes would lure them to their temples which were located inside or underneath arched buildings.

When Paul said “flee fornication,” he wasn’t talking about two committed adults sharing moments of consensual sexual intimacy. He was saying, “Avoid the temple prostitutes who wish to seduce you underneath the arched building. When you have sex with them, you are unwittingly participating in idolatry.” In that context, these verses make a lot more sense:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:15-20, NRSV)

But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. (Acts 21:25 NRSV)

(Emphasis mine. Read more “fornication” verses here and pay special attention to the frequency of which the words “idol” or “idolatry” also appear.)

It’s clear that quite a bit of context has been lost in translation, but one thing’s for sure: The “fornication” verses were not written to control the sexual habits of loving, committed, unmarried people. The Bible is simply not a book about human sexuality. It’s not a sex manual… It’s a story about how various people in ancient history experienced God. Sex is found in the Bible because it’s a part of the human story– but it shouldn’t be read as a timeless commentary on lovemaking.

Human sexuality is not a black-and-white issue. It cannot be boiled down to a simple moral code. Humans are more complex than that. Sex can’t be legislated by a religion or with a holy text. It’s too uninhibited a practice for that. Love cannot be regulated by one culture’s expectations or by any human being’s standards. It’s too messy and spontaneous for that. And intimacy can’t be restrained by any panel of leaders… Its magnetism is way too powerful for that.

Sex between consenting adults who love one another is not a dirty or shameful thing. It’s a gift and it’s beautiful– and  it’s okay to say out loud that it’s a beautiful gift. May you live and love without fear of condemnation.

You May Also Enjoy Reading:

  1. Straightianity: The Anti-Gay Gospel
  2. Dear Pastors: Stop “Protecting” Your Parishioners from Controversial Theology
  3. The Logos: It’s Bigger Than Jesus

31 responses to “Sex And The City Set On A Hill

  1. Pingback: Straightianity: The Anti-Gay Gospel « Diary of a Christian Universagnosticostal·

  2. Conventional Christianity’s puritanical standpoints on sex have ruined my sex life, and almost ruined my marriage. My wife grew up Christian, and throughout her life (largely unconsciously) absorbed this sort of ‘dirty sexy theology’.

    We abstained from sex before we were married, and expected that to make the wedding night all the more beautiful. Ha! I realise now how naive that was.

    On the wedding night, we couldn’t have sex because it was too painful for my wife. So we tried again the next day, and the next day, then gave it a break, then tried it again in the following weeks, months….years. Nope. Too painful – couldn’t do it.

    It wreaked havoc on our new marriage. My wife felt inadequate, and I felt undesired. As I grew more and more sexually frustrated, my wife grew more and more secretly ashamed of herself, and angry at God. Neither of us blamed the other, but it took its toll on each of us, and on the relationship as a whole. Rather than having sex as an expression of our love, and allowing it to smooth out conflicts via ‘make up sex’, it was a negative presence in our lives and was often a catalyst for bad self-esteem and misery.

    Turns out my wife has a condition called vaginismus, where the vaginal muscles clam up and spasm, causing intense sharp pain and in some cases making sex physically impossible. You know what one of the most common documented causes of vaginismus is?………A religious upbringing. A lot of Christian women get it – significantly more than secular women (though I’m sure most are too ashamed or embarrassed to share it with others). It doesn’t even have to be a hardcore ultra-fundamentalist upbringing either. My wife’s parents are wonderful, loving, and nurturing people.

    But as a girl grows up and absorbs these (often subtle) negative messages about sex, they get stored in her subconscious, and eventually physically manifest themselves via vaginismus, Essentially, the vagina tells the brain “you’ve told me my whole life that sex is bad, and now you’re telling me that we’re about to have sex….ok, I better barricade the doors to prevent this bad thing from happening.”

    Christianity’s obsession with ‘sexual purity’ has prevented my wife and I from being able to sexually express our love of each other. It’s been five years and things are better, and we’re learning to have sex with some success (after seeking treatment). *Maybe* we’ll get there while she’s still able to have children.

    I believe there’s only one appropriate and reasonable response to all this: “Fuck puritanical Christianity!”. Fuck it. And shame on the people who perpetuate it. Their obsession with sexual purity did not help my wife and I find purity. It gave us misery, self-hatred, unhappiness, and guilt. And it gave my wife a fucking disease. There’s nothing pure or godly about that. That’s man-made, all the way (and incidentally, I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s not woman-made either, but is man-made all the way).

    • “Their obsession with sexual purity did not help my wife and I find purity. It gave us misery, self-hatred, unhappiness, and guilt. And it gave my wife a fucking disease. There’s nothing pure or godly about that.”

      Wow, Anon. What a terrible thing to have to endure in a young marriage. I am sorry to hear about what you and your wife have gone through. I just wanted to respond by saying that I also think a lot of the self-hatred and guilt felt by women (and arguably many men) have to do with what we’ve been taught about both sex and our bodies. I would venture to say that your wife’s medical problems are just one example of what we endure. As you noted, there are also emotional ills such as depression and anxiety to consider. Thank you for your very honest, candid and personal story. I hope the two of you continue to have better days as the years go on.

  3. I am raising my kids with a very open, positive attitude about sex. I started the basic tab-a slot-b conversation when they were between 4 and 6 depending on when they asked questions. I wanted to be the expert in my kid’s eyes and send the message that this was a normal part of life that people engage in and even talk about. So far, so good. Heck, my 16 year old recently showed me a dirty joke on the internet and I told him I thought it was a little odd that he would do that and he said, “well, I figure you already know everything about sex so what’s the big deal?”

    BUT I am also teaching them to wait until marriage to have sex. They have two half-brothers who have been raised without their dad. 70% of African American kids are born outside of marriage. Half of all kids are born outside of wedlock. Being raised without a father is strongly correlated with every kind of dysfunction and trauma imaginable. It is more predictably associated with long term dysfunction (mental illness, substance abuse, violence, crime etc, etc) than being the victim of sexual violence. Heck, you are significantly more likely to be the victim of sexual violence if you are raised without a father. I believe that this is the slavery of our time – that completely inexcusable thing that everyone just shrugs at and future generations will condemn us for.

    Now, I have taught my kids about birth control and the fact of the matter is that they may well be able to navigate sexual activity without undue problems. But as I wrote in a recent post, NASCAR drivers could probably drive 180 through rush hour traffic without any problems, but if they did many people would naturally increase their own speed – sometimes well past their own skill level. There is a social component to the choices we make about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. Our choices aren’t just about us. There are also social consequences to what we do.

    The fact is that fatherlessness is something we need to avoid at all costs. And there is no easy fix. According to research only 12% of women seeking abortions and 13% of teen moms say that they had a hard time accessing birth control. As abortion and birth control have become more readily available, the rate of fatherlessness has sky-rocketed, so that’s not our answer.

    I understand the push-back against the many terrible teachings that the church has perpetuated around sex. But I think that the evidence is that the teaching that sex belongs only in marriage was given to us for very good reasons. Preventing fatherlessness is at the top of the list, imo.

    I just wrote a post titled “Why Christians Have A Moral Obligation Not to Have Sex Outside of Marriage” on the topic recently which expounds on what I’m saying here. The subject must be going around!

    I do agree with your take down of teachers like Bynum and the attitude the church takes towards young women who become pregnant, BTW.

    • Hi Rebecca! Thanks for reading and commenting. There was a time when I would’ve wholeheartedly agreed with you, but there are a few things that have changed my perspective.

      First, it was realistic to ask people to abstain from sex until marriage in ancient cultures because people were marrying as young teenagers. As time marches on, the average marriage is growing later and later with many newlyweds waiting until they’re in their early 30s to take the plunge. It is simply not realistic to expect anyone to wait until they are 30 years of age or older to have sexual intercourse. If the cultural expectation were really “no sex for any of you until you’re married,” you’d have young people who aren’t ready for marriage rushing down the aisle into unions that would be fated to end before they begin.

      Second, you’ve written that abortion and birth control are not the answers– but neither is forced abstinence. I don’t think the answer is found in imposing the marriage-only moral compass on an entire culture of people. Fatherlessness is about more than sex. It’s about maturity, it’s rooted in socioeconomic ills, it’s rooted in abandonment– (yes, people walk out on the precious marriages we’ve prized for all of these years), and a variety of other issues.

      Making sex a prize attainable for only the virtuously married among us does exactly what I’ve described in this post… It turns it into a superholy, untouchable, dirty, sexy, secretive decadent pleasure that people must do in hiding for fear that they may have to answer to their peers.

      If regulating all of humankind’s sexual behavior were the answer to life’s ills, we would’ve had a utopia a long time ago. However– even though marriage was far more common in Biblical times and in the years immediately thereafter, there were still people killing one another en masse… there were still issues of inequality rooted in prejudice and misogyny… there was still crime and oppression on a grand scale. Regulating sex and forcing marriage were not the answers in the Bible, for the Church Fathers or for the generations that followed because the problems aren’t about that. Our problems are rooted in an inability to affirm fundamental human worth that has renewed itself in every generation.

      So I must disagree with you, friend. I don’t think abstinence is the answer and marriage is not the cure-all panacea you make it out to be. It is possible to be raised in a single-parent home and live a normal, functional adult life. We need more access to the social and emotional tools that make people strong when they’ve been raised by a single parent. We need to abandon the idea that sex alone is a prize that only the married can enjoy, and we need to rethink our understanding of what “marriage” is. Sorry I couldn’t agree more with your comment. :(

      • Crystal, I think you’re responding to A LOT of things I never said. I never said anything about force. I never said ANYTHING about going back to some magical-pre-sexual revolution time. I think you are making many, many, many assumptions which are understandable because they represent many things people actually do say. But they are NOT things that I said or insinuated or referred to.

        First of all, our sexual choices MUST be voluntary. I am arguing that the problem of fatherlessness is serious enough that it should (I believe, but use “can” if you prefer) convict us on the need to do radical things – even voluntarily remaining celibate – in response. Yes, fatherlessness is rooted in many things (I say it’s about unresolved trauma – I just wrote a post on it titled “God is Father to the Fatherless – We Just Call ‘Em Bastards” about it). But people who do not have sex do not inflict fatherlessness on their own children. It’s not easy or popular or PC, but it’s 100% true. Since that’s the only thing we know that actually works, and it’s in line with Christian teaching, I do believe that we could make real changes by embracing celibacy as a social issue to prevent fatherlessness.

        And I don’t believe for a second that people are incapable of remaining celibate. Unwilling, but not unable. Many people do it and have done it through out history. Besides, like I tell my kids, if you learn to master this part of yourself, nothing else will be too hard for you. Self-denial is part of the Christian life for a good reason – it grows us up, it makes us lean into God, it creates a sense of accomplishment and mastery. These are good things that we should not be telling out kids are impossible for them.

        (Masturbation is another issue. Of course, even Dr. Dobson says it’s OK, so anyone who argues otherwise is a REAL outlier. Every girl should know how to double click her mouse and every boy needs to be told to clean up the shower wall when he’s done. Such is life. I’m really not a radical, anti-sex, anti-body weirdo.)

        Now, would I come up to you or anyone else and condemn you for not wanting or being willing to remain celibate until you find a spouse? No. Absolutely not. I would never, ever say or think a word of condemnation – there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. But, I don’t think that we can overstate how devestating fatherlessness often is to people who experience it. Do you really think that the man who praised being killed for the sake of following him will fail to honor, support and make possible sacrifices we make for the sake of changing this nightmare world that so many kids are born into?

      • Hi Rebecca… Thanks for replying. I think it’ll be easier to respond by quoting you…

        Crystal, I think you’re responding to A LOT of things I never said. I never said anything about force. I never said ANYTHING about going back to some magical-pre-sexual revolution time. I think you are making many, many, many assumptions which are understandable because they represent many things people actually do say. But they are NOT things that I said or insinuated or referred to.

        I apologize if I read too far into your comment. As you’ve noted here, the assumptions I clearly made represent things that people actually do say. However, I do think the insinuations were there. Usually, when people argue for celibacy, traditional family models, and “Christ-centered” understandings of human sexuality (which you actually mention in your second comment, not the first, but I understood the Christ-centered part as an implication because I know your blog), there’s some belief that people had it all figured out in the old-Bible-days and that our society will be fixed if we just mimic what they did. Please accept my apology if I missed what you actually meant.

        Yes, fatherlessness is rooted in many things… But people who do not have sex do not inflict fatherlessness on their own children. It’s not easy or popular or PC, but it’s 100% true. Since that’s the only thing we know that actually works, and it’s in line with Christian teaching, I do believe that we could make real changes by embracing celibacy as a social issue to prevent fatherlessness.

        I think a part of our miscommunication is that we disagree with the answer to fatherlessness. Fathers abandon children born both in and out of wedlock. I don’t think the answer to the problem is found in marriage. It’s a sociological issue, in my opinion. This is obviously a cause very dear to your heart and central to your worldview, but I think we disagree on both the cause and the cure.

        And I don’t believe for a second that people are incapable of remaining celibate.

        I also don’t think people are incapable of remaining celibate, however, I do think sexual urges are natural. For some people (but certainly not all), when natural urges are suppressed, the outcome is the opposite of what they intended. People who suppress the desire to eat often over-eat. Those who suppress the desire to spend are more prone to impulse buys. And people who really wish to have sex, but force themselves to abstain, often find themselves in sexual situations that they may not necessarily approve of morally. This is human nature. My only argument here is that there should be some latitude in areas of sexual practice given our understanding of how the human psyche works.

        (Masturbation is another issue. Of course, even Dr. Dobson says it’s OK, so anyone who argues otherwise is a REAL outlier. Every girl should know how to double click her mouse and every boy needs to be told to clean up the shower wall when he’s done. Such is life. I’m really not a radical, anti-sex, anti-body weirdo.)

        Lol… I don’t read you as a weirdo. But anti-masturbation teachings are more common than one might expect in conservative evangelical fundamentalism.

        Now, would I come up to you or anyone else and condemn you for not wanting or being willing to remain celibate until you find a spouse? No. Absolutely not. I would never, ever say or think a word of condemnation – there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.

        Glad to hear that. In my opinion, you’re a lot more progressive and accepting than other traditionalists.

        But, I don’t think that we can overstate how devestating fatherlessness often is to people who experience it. Do you really think that the man who praised being killed for the sake of following him will fail to honor, support and make possible sacrifices we make for the sake of changing this nightmare world that so many kids are born into?

        I agree, fatherlessness is devastating. But you appeal to a solution that I don’t necessarily champion. As for the “power” of Jesus Christ within us to overcome– I am going to write about this, but we are not in full agreement. Addressing this would turn my comment into another blog post (lol), but it has to do with the “omnipotence” of God and how process theology has changed my understanding of this.

        Again, thanks for commenting. I’m enjoying our discussion and welcome your response.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I respect your efforts to instill a sense of healthy respect and responsibility twoards sex in your children. Our mainstream culture teaches many unhelpful and damaging things about sex, and it’s good that people like you are trying to combat that.

      I also agree with you about fatherlessness being a big problem, though I believe you’re perhaps missing the core issue by focussing so strongly on out-of-wedlock sex as a cause. Many kids born out of wedlock have stable, long term, albeit unmarried, parents. While many fatherless children are the products of marriages that ended in divorce. Others are the products of ‘successful’ marriages where the father simply neglected the children, leaving the bulk of the parenting to the mother. So it seems to me that the core issue that needs to be looked at here is the quality of relationships and the quality of parenting, rather than whether or not people happen to have a ring around their finger when they have sex.

      As for teaching abstinence, I urge you to consider the full gamut of psychological effects that that sort of teaching produces – not just the positive effects, but the negative ones too. See my above comment for an example of how well-meaning parenting such as yours can horribly backfire and damage the very thing it’s trying to preserve. Abstinence teaching can and does sometimes become, unwittingly and paradoxically, a destructive force that negatively affects intimacy, self-esteem, sexual performance, family bonds and faith.

      One of the problems with teaching abstinence is that you’re asking your children to fight their sexual instincts in a time when [a] they’re at their most sexually curious and hormonally active and [b] when they’re at they’re emotionally weakest. This is a hard ask, to say the least.

      Have you ever tried to abstain from something that you really want, on a long-term basis? Smoking? Drinking? Sweets? Carbs? If so, then you know the drill. You know how difficult it is, and you know how likely it is that there’ll be slip ups along the way. And you know how the thing that you’re trying to abstain from begins to take on more and more power, as it takes more and more of your willpower and energy to fight it. The more you fight it, the more you learn to associate it with frustration, fear, and resentment. And when the slip-ups and close-calls inevitably happen, you also learn to associate that thing with guilt, shame, and poor self-esteem. You learn to see yourself as an enemy, and as powerless.

      Now, if the thing you’re fighting is a genuinely harmful thing that should always be taken in moderation or not at all, like cigarettes, drugs, or
      sweets, then it’s arguably quite helpful to have these automatic negative connotations develop around it. But what you’re asking your children to do with sex abstinence is fight it, fight it, fight it, fight it….stop….embrace it wholeheartedly.

      It won’t work that way. You’re, perhaps unwittingly, asking for your children to develop a bi-polar attitude towards sex…to make a sharp u-turn on the wedding night that undoes years of subconscious negative gearing towards sex, makes it magically disappear, and replaces it with positive emotions plucked from thin air. It’s not a strategy that’s likely to produce good results.

      If I have children (and I might not – the carry-on effects of abstinence teaching have damaged our chances – again, see my above post), I will definitely teach them to treat sex with reverence and caution. But there’s no way in hell I would ever subject my kids to strict abstinence teaching, having experienced the damaging effects of it myself.

      If I have kids, I will endeavour to teach them to discern between the different types of sex – casual physical sex, brutish controlling humiliating sex, ecstatic wild animal sex, gentle lovemaking between intimate committed adults, etc., and teach them to strive for and revere the healthier and more beneficial types of sex, while remain cautious of the unhealthier types. To me, that makes more sense than treating sex as if it were one singular thing and applying one blanket attitude towards the whole thing (and then turning that blanket attitude upside down on the wedding night). Most importantly though, I think our society needs to be better at teaching kids about healthy, loving, honest and hard-working relationships. Because I think that poor relationship education, not poor sex education, is where many of the problems – seeking acceptance from one night stands, fathers abandoning babies, divorces, etc. – stem from.

    • “Since [abstinence] is the only thing we know that actually works [to prevent fatherlessness]”

      Has it not occurred to you that abstinence sometimes actually causes fatherlessness?

      Some 40% of marriages end in divorce. Among Christians, the stats are just as high. In some fundamentalist circles, they’re even higher. That’s a lot of fatherless kids.

      What’s the general cause of divorces? People getting married who probably shouldn’t have done so in the first place.

      What does abstinence encourage people to do? Get married young, to people they’ve only known a couple of years, and to allow lust to be one of the major motivating factors for getting married. Bingo. That’s a great recipe for keeping the divorce rate high. And a high divorce rate means a high fatherlessness rate.

      Like most issues, fatherlessness is complicated. Yes, abstinence will prevent some cases, but it will also contribute to others. One thing abstinence can’t be is some sort of magical one-size-fits-all solution that will simply and dramatically solve the problem. That’s just wishful thinking.

  4. Great article Crystal. I always get a laugh out of the “Christian” mindset that is so caught up in “warning” us about what Satan is trying to do.

    “Unwed coitus was Satan’s effort to thwart God’s plan for the single Christian. Those who engaged in sexual sin were being led into darkness.”

    It is just another example of how most Christians have so little faith in Christ, for they forget that “Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.” Apparently they believe He will fail, or at the very least that He needs our help to save the world. This all just gets back to the orthodox view of salvation, which is essentially that the strong will save themselves, and Christ will take credit for it.

    And just what is this “darkness” that we are being saved from? Freely loving others… or the view from inside when the church doors slam shut behind us?

    • Great comment! It reminds me of a video I saw long ago by a guy named Martin Zinder. He laid it out plain: Evangelicalism’s “salvation” doctrine is not about faith in Jesus. It’s about faith in faith. I actually regard self-saviourism as the most cunning bait-and-switch in theological history. And your observation about darkness? Spot on. Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts. By the way, here’s a link to the Zinder video if you’re interested:

      • I first read Zender’s works about six years ago and loved them. He was one of those blessed individuals who God used to show me His truths. Thanks for the video link.

        “Self-saviourism” — I love that word… so accurate and revealing.

  5. Chrystal,

    re fatherlessness: I am married to a man who “abandoned” two children born to two different women, so I am quite familiar with the issue. It’s very, very, very complicated. Often the mother is just as much or even more to blame as the father. And almost always, the father has serious emotional issues from unresolved trauma. Making them into “the bad guy” is no more helpful, realistic or compassionate than calling single moms sluts used to be.

    Marriage isn’t an end goal and it’s a shame that the church has painted it as such – especially with regard to sex. By making such a big thing out of sexual sins, the church is no different than the rest of the world in that they perpetuate a world view with sex as the be-all and end-all of human existance – so powerful and dangerous that only lots of fear and shame can keep it in line.

    Marriage is one sort of life that we as Christians can be called to. There are other callings which Paul himself felt were more virtuous and desirable for the Christian, but the church is so fixated on marriage as the be-all and end-all, singleness is often treated as a defect. According to Christian teachings, it’s actually a call and a blessed state.

    I was a single mom and decided to raise my son on my own, so I am not speaking out of any condemnation or lack of sympathy at all. But between my family’s experiences and my time spent volunteering in a juvenile prison, I cannot see the problem of fatherlessness as anything other than the most destructive force we face today. It’s not about marriage at all to me. It’s about the fact that we simply do not have the right to inflict fatherlessness on our children. Yes, the number of people willing to embrace Christian teachings on this may not be huge, but God says he will provide the increase.

    BTW, my exposure to fundamentalism is very limited, so it has little influence on my thinking. It has been something of a problem in that it is fairly common for people to react to any defense of orthodoxy as if I were coming from a fundamentalist POV. In fact, I didn’t even have any idea that there were people who thought cards and dancing and alcohol were forbidden to Christians until I got to college and met students from Wheaton College. I had heard rumors of such things, but had written them off as bad jokes until then. It’s absurd and simply pushes people further and further away from God, imo. I hate it. But that’s just me.

    • Your points are all well-taken. Again, we differ in opinion but that’s alright. I thank you for coming by and hope you’ll come again– whether you agree or disagree. These discussions are healthy and I thoroughly enjoy them. See you around! :)

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  7. Great post. I’ve been at a loss as to how I can articulate the problems with purity/modesty/abstinence culture. You’ve said it very well.

  8. Pingback: The Bible and Same-Sex Relationships: When Theologies Collide « Crystal St. Marie Lewis·

  9. My good friend William Bole (williambole.com) introduced me to your blog. I grew up of the male Catholic persuasion and never heard of Bynum, but I felt you and I we long lost twins when you wrote: “When I hear the word ‘fornication,’ I am immediately reminded of how big an issue premarital sex was during my early Christian years.”

    My theory about why sex looms so large in religion (as distinct from faith)? The last bit of religious instruction most people get is when they are pre-teens, just before confirmation or whatever similar rite is available. At that age, sex — not duly paying taxes, not making peace, not feeding the hungry, which were the gospel Jesus’ actual concerns — is of paramount importance. So people grow up thinking that as long as they don’t have sex in the wrong context, they can cheat on their taxes, warmonger and beggar their neighbors while cozily singing hymns in church.

  10. Pingback: What I mean when I call Christianity a “privileged class”… | Crystal St. Marie Lewis·

  11. Great post. I have long felt this way about the issue of premarital sex, but you articulated it wonderfully. In our day and age, three things can happen if a person tries to wait till marriage for sex: 1) they marry at an early age (late teens, early twenties), 2) they marry at the normal age (late twenties, early thirties) and therefore abstain from sex till an unnaturally late age, or 3) they fail. The first two can work out if you’re lucky, but both can also be disastrous. Getting married young can be a risky choice especially if sex is the primary motivation, and suppressing the sex drive too long can cause big problems for one’s future sex life (as have been noted here). And failing can cause feelings of enormous guilt and worthlessness.

    I don’t believe promiscuity is good either, but I think Christians need to be encouraging people to have loving adult relationships where sex is allowed to happen when the time is right, not delayed for some arbitrary date. We also need to stop focusing so darn much on sex in general. It wasn’t central to Jesus’ message at all. I saddens me that sexual “purity” is often treated as the single most important achievement for Christian youth (or at least FEMALE youth), when they have so much potential.

    Which brings me to another point…that this “purity” message is focused on females in a quite sexist manner. Abstinence is supposedly expected of boys too, but nobody really cares, and their worth as people definitely isn’t attached to it. There are no purity balls, no purity rings, no pledging their sexuality to their father till they are married. It is undeniably female-centric and the female who is made to feel the brunt of the guilt should sex occur.
    All of this makes me sad and angry. I’m so happy to see you and some others telling it like it is and working to get rid of harmful attitudes that have no place in modern Christianity.

  12. Wow. I was in tears while reading this. I was raised with the same fear-mongering and shaming teachings about sexual purity, and just heard so many lies such as the claim that you will lose a little of your heart to someone each time you have sex with them. My boyfriend and I have grown in our relationship and are both really love physical touch, and I cannot think of any better way to show how much I love him, especially since we aren’t ready to get married. Thanks so much for your post!

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